Three flights, 40 hours and 12 time zones later, Kingsley Jones is set for his test debut as Canada rugby coach.
The former Welsh international and his 24th-ranked squad are in Tbilisi to face No. 12 Georgia in the first of three November tests.
Waking up at all hours of the night, Jones has had plenty of time to scheme for the hard-nosed Georgians.
"It was a challenge, I'll be honest, but the players were exceptional (dealing with the travel)," said Jones, who had crossed eight time zones to meet up with his team in Vancouver prior to flying some 10,000 kilometres back east.
The team left the West Coast on Saturday morning and arrived in the Georgia capital on Monday morning. After stops in Toronto and Istanbul, the team went straight to work under strength and conditioning coach Michael Deasy.
"They're acclimatized. The spirit within the group is very good, very positive," Jones said in an interview. "They've trained very well."
He has made seven changes to the team that lost 51-9 to the Maori All-Blacks at B.C. Place Stadium on Friday.
Canada's back line will be bolstered by overseas pros Taylor Paris, Ciaran Hearn and DTH van der Merwe. Paris starts on the wing with Hearn and van der Merwe in the centres. The three veterans have 122 caps, 230 points and 45 tries between them.
Djustice Sears-Duru and Jake Ilnicki start at props with Evan Olmstead at second row and Lucas Rumball at No. 6. All but Ilnicki were on the bench for the Maori game.
Josh Larsen, who started against the Maori in a non-test game, is set to win his first cap alongside Olmstead. He plays for Northland in New Zealand's ITM Cup.
Veteran scrum half Phil Mack remains captain.
After Georgia, the Canadian men will face No. 19 Spain in Madrid on Nov. 18 and No. 9 Fiji in Narbonne, France, on Nov. 25. The November tests serve as a warmup for a critical home-and-away World Cup qualifying series in January with No. 18 Uruguay.
They could also serve as a precursor for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The Canada-Uruguay winner will enter Pool D, which features Georgia and Fiji as well as No. 3 Australia and No. 7 Wales.
Canada lost 13-0 to Georgia in June in Calgary in a game played in near frigid conditions. The Canadians edged Georgia 16-15 in a September 2015 match in England.
Georgia, 6-2-0 this year under New Zealand coach Milton Haig, is coming off a 45-29 loss to No. 10 Argentina in June.
"They have some very good players," Jones said of Georgia. "They're a rising force."
Georgia is known for its powerful scrum and maul and Jones says if his team can hold its own there, it will be able to score tries through finishers like Paris and van der Merwe.
Despite the lopsided score, Jones saw positives against the Maori.
"I haven't been involved with a team that's had an 87 per cent tackle completion (rate) and lost by the score we did," he said. "It just shows the way the Maori play."
Some poor kicking, lineout errors and turnovers cost the young Canadians, he said. And Jones, who has just started as coach, only had a few hours with the team before the game.
Hearn and Brock Staller will handle kicking duties Saturday.
Jones will lose Tyler Ardron after the Georgia match, with the big No. 8 due for mandated time off before the start of the Super Rugby season. He hopes to add forwards Aaron Carpenter, Canada's all-time caps leader, and Brett Beukeboom during the tour.
Other top players like Conor Trainor, Connor Braid, Shane O'Leary, Gordon McRorie and Jeff Hassler are injured. Matt Evans is working his way back from injury.
Admir Cejvanovic is available for the Spain game but may be allowed to stick with the sevens squad for this tour while Jones gives other back-rowers a chance.
Djustice Sears-Duru, Ealing Trailfinders (England), Oakville, Ont.; Ray Barkwill, Seattle Seawolves (U.S.), Niagara Falls, Ont.; Jake Ilnicki, Newcastle Falcons (England), Williams Lake, B.C.; Josh Larsen, Northland (New Zealand), Parksville, B.C.; Evan Olmstead, Newcastle Falcons (England), Vancouver; Lucas Rumball, Balmy Beach RFC, Mississauga, Ont.; Matt Heaton, Darlington Mowden Park (England), Godmanchester, Que.; Tyler Ardron, Chiefs (New Zealand) Lakefield, Ont.; Phil Mack (capt.), James Bay AA, Victoria; Patrick Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. John's, N.L.; Taylor Paris, Castres (France), Barrie, Ont.; Ciaran Hearn, London Irish(England), Conception Bay South, N.L.; DTH van der Merwe, Newcastle Falcons (England), Victoria; Brock Staller, Meralomas RFC, Surrey, B.C.; Andrew Coe, Markham Irish, Toronto.
Eric Howard, Brantford Harlequins, Ottawa; Anthony Luca, Burnaby Lake RFC, Pitt Meadows, B.C.; Cole Keith, James Bay AA, Sussex, N.B.; Kyle Baillie, London Scottish (England), Summerside, P.E.I.; Conor Keys, UVIC Vikes, Stittsville, Ont.; Kyle Gilmour, St. Albert RFC, St. Albert, Alta.; Andrew Ferguson, Oakville Crusaders, Mississauga, Ont.; Guiseppe du Toit, UVIC Vikes, Maple Ridge, B.C.
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